World famous sculpture is created in an Eden Hills shed.
For 20 years, internationally regarded and exhibited sculptor Greg Johns has worked from a secluded haven in Eden Hills creating pieces that now grace some of the most public plazas in the world.
Greg says a long-term love of the Australian landscape and the dramatic views over the southern Hills were instrumental in his choosing his plot - one now dotted at front and back with the sculpture that is sought for private collections, galleries and public arenas across Australia and in Europe, the US and increasingly China and Japan. A piece has just been placed at the Australian National University, and since mid-April, visitors to Melbourne's Collins St can see another example of his so often larger-than-life work.
He has a show planned for Melbourne in August, and his third solo New York show is planned for March next year.
"With sculpture, I have just kept going ahead with it," he says. "The last few years it's surprised people that it's attracted the interest it has, nationally and internationally as well. But as much as possible, I like my work going up in Australia and the Australian landscape."
Greg finished art school in 1978; by 1984 he was exhibiting and had solo shows in Adelaide and NSW. While "certainly struggling financially" he was determined to make a living as a sculptor. Initially he paid his bills by hanging wallpaper three days a week and spending two days on his sculpture.
"I was really nourished and passionate about it, he says. "I had passion and persistence. And I knew I wasn't a person to sit in a traditional job."
But was he good enough? "I think you have to have some self-confidence. From fairly early on. I had a fairly strong belief in my own work. Sometimes that's reinforced, and sometimes it's not."
He says it was in Adelaide, "from the government side and from individuals in the art world", that he received most criticism. "From the early '80s, the work gained a lot more acceptance in the eastern States - and from the late '80s, from overseas as well. Among early supporters were sculptor Bert Flugelman and Steven Romayne of Stirling gallery Aptos Cruz - both of whom have maintained their backing.
The Australian landscape - combined with wide reading in the arts and beyond, and "general observation" - long has inspired him. Now he feels it's time to "give something back", and has established an outdoor sculpture gallery in Palmer, where he is both permanently showing sculpture and revegetating the landscape.
"The work for so long has been influenced by the landscape, it seemed appropriate to put it in that environment. As soon as I saw this land, I knew it was the right place," Greg says.
"I realised environmentally I had the chance to make a great contribution, and have been working with Trees for Life to make that happen. If I hadn't got that property, in the next 10 years it would have been land written off."
Instead, it is home to Greg's sculpture - steel structures up to 3m high that with time will take on a patina reflecting the colours of the landscape. During the Adelaide Festival, a major exhibition at Palmer included not only his own work, but that of other sculptors from Adelaide and interstate. It went "so well", Greg says, he is planning for a bigger show in 2006. The success of the exhibition also has convinced him he'd like to keep other sculptors' work there permanently, along with his own, and to that end he already has begun acquiring pieces, including work by Melbourne artist Geoffrey Bartlett and local Gavin Malone.
"It suggests positive links between sculpture and caring for the environment," Greg says of Palmer, "and, it gives me total freedom to place my work without any outside influence. I think they are important placements for the work in a really dramatic Australian landscape."
Karen Phillips. May 2004